If you’re looking for things to do in Maine and your final destination is Bar Harbor, there’s plenty to do along the way that most tourists and visitors are never even aware of. But if you’re seeking a true Downeast Maine experience, you’ll find a great deal of adventure waiting just off of Route 1 between Belfast and Ellsworth: the gateway to Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island.
Belfast in one of the oldest cities in Maine and has a long and storied history. With the exception of the rail yard that was torn up after 127 years of service in 2005, much of downtown Belfast looks very similar to the way it did at the turn of the century. Some of the most influential and renowned architects of the nineteenth century helped to shape Belfast, including Samuel French and Ammi Young; both of whom have buildings standing in the city today. If you’re looking for things to do in Maine, a stroll through Belfast’s downtown area and waterfront will give you a rare glimpse into the past of a bustling seaport that once constructed some of the world’s most impressive 5-masted schooners.
Sears Island, Maine
Just a few miles north on Route 1 from Belfast is Sears Island- a beautiful sanctuary that has been the subject of heated debate and controversy for years. At one time the potential site for a nuclear power plant, a container shipping port and a liquefied natural gas facility, Sears Island is now largely under a conservation status. This means that tourists and locals alike can use the immense island for hiking, biking, walking and other daytime activities. There are no fees to explore this beautiful and pristine island, and visitors can even see remnants of old farm houses that have long since decayed to nothing but their original stone foundations.
Penobscot Narrows Bridge & Observatory
After exploring Sears Island one of the most uniquely engineered bridges in the world awaits you only ten minutes to the north. The Penobscot Narrows Bridge offers stunning panoramic views from North America’s only bridge observation deck. At 420′, the towering height of the bridge allows visitors stunning views of Penobscot Harbor, Bucksport Village, Fort Knox State Historic Site, Verona Island and the rugged Maine coastline. Admission fees allow visitors to explore both the fort and the bridge, which share the same 175 acre property.
Nana’s Kitchen, Verona Island Maine
Nana’s kitchen is a throw-back to a time when restaurant owners had a vested interest in getting to know their guests personally. Located just off the Penobscot Narrows Bridge, Nana and Pappy offer a unique combination of traditional Maine seafood and boiled lobster dinners as well as New York style rolls, sandwiches and even Disco Fries. Open early and closing late, Nana’s offers Maine’s best seafood in a cozy Downeast environment with an open kitchen/bar concept and local staff. In fact, it’s likely that Nana will prepare your food for you herself and do it for much less than those “touristy” joints that simply want to turn tables as quickly as possible.
Downeast Sunrise Trail, Ellsworth, Maine
After a fabulous lunch or dinner at Nana’s Kitchen, the Downeast Sunrise Trail lies only 20 minutes closer to Bar Harbor. Just off US Route 1, the trail runs for an astonishing 85 miles along what was once a busy railroad bed. Now that the tracks have been removed the trail offers hikers, bikers and ATV enthusiasts a beautiful corridor that is nearly dead flat and runs along the incredible Maine coast, providing spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean.
From the head of the Downeast trail to Bar Harbor is only about a 15 minute drive. There’s plenty more to see and do along the way, including the Kisma Preserve and Acadia Aerial Tours, which are sometimes frequented heavily by tourists. So if you’re looking for things to do in Maine and want to take the less-traveled route, get to know these gems between Belfast and Ellsworth instead.